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Gdansk is one of Europe’s most under-rated cities. It has a pretty city centre and good tourist facilities. Gdansk has an extensive history which lends itself to having a lot to see and do. Under German rule, Gdansk was known as Danzig.
A weekend in Gdansk comes recommended. Here I’ll outline the many things to see and do if you only have two days in the city.
However, the port city would be an ideal base should you wish to discover the north coast region of Poland.
WHERE IS GDANSK
Gdansk is located in Northern Poland on the Baltic coast. The province surrounding Gdansk is called Pomerania. Gdansk is approximately 340km from Warsaw, 500km from Berlin and 160km from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
In most European cities, the Old Town is the historic part of the city. Not in Gdansk, as the Main Town is where you’ll find most of the notable sights.
Długa is the main thoroughfare that runs the entire length of the Main Town from west to east. Długa starts at the Golden Gate monument and ends at the Green Gate monument. Along its path lie plenty of shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. Along with the aforementioned Gates, other historical sites on Długa include the Main Town Hall, Neptune’s Fountain, and Długa Targ (Long Market). The Fahrenheit thermometer monument honours local scientist Daniel Fahrenheit.
A couple of metres east of Golden Gate lies High Gate, the traditional entrance to the city, and Foregate, an old prison and torture chamber that now houses the Amber Museum.
Running parallel to Długa are Piwna and Chlebnicka streets, thoroughfares that are equally as quaint as Długa. At the east end of Piwna lies the Great Armoury building with its decorative façade. Where Piwna meets Chlebnicka lies St. Mary’s Church.
Guide books list Mariacka as the most beautiful street in Gdansk. I disagree as many side streets, particularly between Długa and Piwna/Chlebnicka, are gorgeous. What Mariacka does well is the number of amber shops available.
Golden House and Artus House on Długa are outstanding pieces of architecture as is the Great Armoury building on Piwna. As for the other architecture, if Gdansk feels a little like Amsterdam or Antwerp, you have Flemish architect Willem van den Blocke to thank for that.
European Solidarity Centre and Shipyards
Lech Wałęsa – The universal comment friends and acquaintances made when I mentioned that I was visiting Gdansk.
One of twentieth century Europe’s most influential people, Lech Wałęsa was a Gdansk shipyard electrician who founded the Solidarity trade union pro-democracy movement when Poland was under communist rule. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 and became President of Poland in 1990 when the country transitioned from communism to democracy.
The European Solidarity Centre is a museum that tells the story of Solidarity, the pro-democracy movement in general, its key players and their role in the downfall of communism. It’s based in a unique rust-coloured multi-storey building which has a viewing platform on the roof.
The European Solidarity Centre is easily one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. If you only have time to visit one museum during your weekend in Gdansk, let it be this one.
To access the building you pass through the famous shipyard gates. Outside the gates and building, you will find the Monument to Fallen Shipyard workers.
Gdansk is one of the largest ports on the Baltic Sea, but the port area is located a couple of kilometres from the city centre. Gdansk is built on two rivers: The Motława and the Martwa Wisła, a branch of the Vistula River.
The quayside I’m referring to here is the waterfront along the Motława River, running from the Main Town area north to the Old Town area. Spirchlerze and Ołowianka islands are on the east side of the quays. Modern hotels and restaurants line the quayside of Spirchlerze Island while the Polish Baltic Frédéric Chopin Philharmonic concert hall and Ferris wheel are the notable buildings on Ołowianka island.
The Main Town side of the quays is lined with cafes, restaurants and amber shops built in a more traditional red brick style. Interspersed along this route one will find more historic gates leading into the Main Town. The most noteworthy building on this side of the quays is the medieval port crane. It’s a reminder of Gdansk’s golden era of trade during the city’s time as a member of the Hanseatic League.
World War II Museum
Not only did events in Gdansk feature prominently in the downfall of communism, but it was where Nazi Germany invaded Poland, thus triggering World War II. Detailed information on this event plus Poland’s fate in World War II are shown in the multi-purpose World War II Museum building.
While this is an excellent museum for those with scant knowledge of WWII, some of the content in this interactive museum is graphic so not suitable for younger children. However, there is an exhibition specifically geared towards children.
What I liked about the museum was the detail given on the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the agreement between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union to divide Poland and neighbouring countries between them.
The museum is located north of the Main Town, a couple of minutes’ walk along the quayside.
Eat and drink
The quality and value of food in Gdansk is another great reason for visiting the city. I was able to indulge my love of pierogi (stuffed dumplings) pretty much everywhere. Fish is plentiful given the city’s port status.
Small bars with relatively inexpensive beverages are dotted around the city, making it a popular destination for Scandinavian and German party-goers. Vodka is the national drink and comes in a variety flavours as well as original. Vodka in Poland is generally made from rye.
If you’re visiting Gdansk during the summer, I highly recommend a trip to the Baltic Sea resort of Sopot. Located a few minutes from Gdansk by train, the city has Europe’s longest wooden pier and miles of glorious sandy beaches.
Sopot is a charming town with whitewashed buildings in the Belle Époque style. Pedestrianised streets and squares lend themselves to strolling aimlessly licking an ice-cream.
Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia region are known as the Tri-Cities. While Gdynia has a pretty good beach, the rest of the city felt generic.
GDANSK TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
I stayed in the Hampton by Hilton in Gdansk Main Town (Booking.com calls it the Old Town) and can highly recommend it for its comfort, price, location and breakfast. For sightseeing and atmosphere, the Main Town area is the place to stay. Booking.com has an excellent choice of accommodation options including apartments for groups.
Getting to Gdansk
Gdansk is well served by low-cost Ryanair and Wizz Air along with a number of European flag carriers.
Gdansk Central (Gdańsk Główny) is connected to Warsaw and Berlin by several train services per day.
Getting around Gdansk
The Main Town is easily walked but bring comfortable walking shoes as many of the streets are cobbled. Gdansk has a tram network and the Urban Rail website has possibly the best map of this system.
To get from the airport to the city centre by bus, take the 210 to the central bus/train station (Gdańsk Główny). The SKM train service from the airport to Gdańsk Główny requires a change at Gdansk Wrzeszcz station.
WEEKEND IN GDANSK: OTHER INFORMATION
I found Gdansk to be safe but expect a noisy atmosphere on weekends as the city attracts groups of party-goers.
I noticed that English is widely spoken among those under 40.
If you don’t want Baltic weather (i.e. bitterly cold), visit during the months of May to September.